Dir: Chad Lowe. US. 2006.91mins.

Chad Lowe makes an uneven directorial debut with Beautiful Ohio, failing to establish anassured tone, consistent acting or memorable visual style in this story about adysfunctional but talented family. All in all it feels very much like a missedopportunity, moreso because the source material's imaginativeliterariness and strong sense of place does occasionally creep through.

Beautiful Ohio, which premiered at the AFI Film Fest, has yet to secure a USdistributor or foreign sales agent. Despite a cast that includes William Hurtand Rita Wilson, it is too clumsy to compete successfully in the US, suffering bycomparison with far stronger films like Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides and Noah Baumbach's The Squid And The Whale. Still, some of the names attached in theproducing credits - like Lowe's ex-wife, Hilary Swank, and basketball starReginald Miller - could draw some domestic receipts, although international willbe much harder.

Lowe, best known in the USas an Emmy-winning TV actor for playing an AIDSvictim in Life Goes On, as well asbeing Swank's husband and Rob Lowe's brother, comesfrom Dayton, Ohio. Presumably Lowe had an emotional connection to the story forBeautiful Ohio, which is set in thesame state. But neither the comic nor the dramatic scenes play as intended,leaving the audience struggling to figure out how to respond.

The Messermanfamily, who live in suburban Cleveland in 1973, include oldest son Clive (Davern), an egotistical, stoned maths whizzwho would rather play music than study and who has seemingly invented his ownlanguage to set himself apart. (Ethan Canin's source shortstory was called Batorsag & Szerelem,a reference to that language.)

Clive's smart, classicalmusic-loving and socially conservative mother (Wilson) loves and supports him,but his melancholy, sometimes-tipsy insurance-selling dad (Hurt) isn't so sure.Instead he would rather pursue the sexy, earthy neighbour (Margulies) who iseverything his wife is not

The above premise may allsound like the groundwork for a good tale, but unfortunately it's all told fromthe viewpoint of a younger son, William (Call), who is bright but insecure abouthis place in the family.

The casting of David Call inthe role does not help, using an actor who isphysically too big for the part (he occasionally looks older than Davern). Lowe also fails to coax any stability from Call'sperformance: sometimes he's childish; sometimes mature. Similarly, MichelleTrachtenberg is inappropriate as Sandra, the sexually precocious young girl wholives in the Messermans'basement. Although she is 21 and presumably playing an older teen here,Trachtenberg acts much younger and seems like a barely pubescent version of aninsouciant Rosanna Arquette.

Of the more establishedcast, William Hurt is hammy although sometimes sensitive to his character; RitaWilson is strong and steady in her role.

Technically, the film feelssomewhat drab. Scenes that might be important go nowhere and end abruptly, aswhen William and Sandra are nude on the beach and there are also too many staticclose-ups of actors talking. The Cleveland they live in never feels like thepopulated metropolis it is, although the few location shots do at least conveythe winter coldness.

A hard-rock soundtrack provesannoying: supposedly it's what Clive likes but his character feels toosensitive for it.

Production companies/backers
Boom Baby Productions
Accomplice Films

US sales
c/o Creative Artists Agency

Executive producers
Reginald Miller
Gail D'Agostino
Tim Hoy

Hilary Swank
Mark Burton
Chad Lowe

Ethan Canin

Stephen Kazmierski

Amy E Duddleston

Production design
Stephen Beatrice

Craig Wedren

Main cast
William Hurt
Rita Wilson
Juliana Margulies
Michelle Trachtenberg
Brett Davern
David Call